Help Reform TSA Training Procedures on Civil Rights

Legislative Fact Sheet

(October 2011)

The Issue

  • Current Transportation Security Administration (TSA) workforce education programs do not provide sufficient enough time, training or resources on passenger civil rights to prevent security personnel from screening passengers based on race, ethnicity, national origin or religion.
  • CAIR has consistently encouraged the TSA to eliminated bias in its trainings and amongst security personnel by adopting screening measures that do not rely on protected characteristics to identify security threats. However, a number of recent high profile civil rights cases illustrate that the TSA has not yet eliminated such biases.
  • The civil rights of all passengers remain threatened by not adequately training transportation security officers. Without adequate civil rights training, TSA pilot programs like Screening of Passengers by Observation Techniques (SPOT) are also left vulnerable to mismanagement, manipulation or abuse.

What is being asked of members of Congress?

  • Support comprehensive reform of TSA workforce education programs to require sufficient enough time, training and resources on passenger civil rights. Revise the Transportation Security Administration Authorization Act of 2011 to include:
  • An amendment to the Aviation and Transportation Security Act (Public Law 107-71), that:
    • Increases the number of hours required for initial screener classroom instruction and on-the-job training in TSA policies and procedures that protect and promote the civil rights of all passengers.
    • Requires in the annual proficiency reviews of security personnel a demonstration of the knowledge and skills necessary to perform screening in compliance with passenger civil rights.
  • A provision that prevents the use of trainers who demonstrate bias toward Islam and Muslims or other minorities.

Reasons to Support

Current TSA policies and procedures require passenger screenings to be based on specific observed behaviors and not on appearance, race, ethnicity or religion. However, transportation security officers do not always practice such guidelines due to lack of training, bias in trainings, and in some unfortunate cases, personal bias.

  • A Lack of Sufficient Training: In October 2010, the Department of Homeland Security's Office of Inspector General released a critical report of the TSA's screening workforce training program. The report found that the "TSA does not ensure that [transportation security officers] (TSOs) are provided the time they need to effectively complete training requirements," and that, "TSOs described rushing through course material without devoting the attention needed to retain the lessons."
  • Only Two to Three Weeks of Training: TSA officers are not provided with enough time to adequately train. Current workforce training programs for TSOs only consist of 40 hours of initial screener classroom instruction and 60 hours of on-the-job training. Those selected as behavior detection officers (BDOs) for the SPOT program only undergo four days of behavioral classroom instruction and analysis, and 24 hours of on-the-job training.
  • Training Procedures Promote Stereotypes (I): Recent media accounts in May 2011 criticized the TSA for hiring an individual who appeared Middle Eastern/South Asian in descent to test screeners at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport by carrying a shaving kit made to look like a bomb. Civil rights advocates believe that when the TSA resorts to ethnic and religious stereotypes in training drills, it leads to inappropriate profiling in passenger screenings.
  • Training Procedures Promote Stereotypes (II): Recent media accounts in May 2011 also criticized DHS, which oversees the TSA, for sponsoring a South Dakota Department of Public Safety conference that paid Islamophobe Walid Shoebat to speak at the event. Shoebat claims that "Islam is the devil," there are "many parallels between the Antichrist and Islam," and that President Obama is a Muslim.
  • Programs Susceptible to Civil Rights Abuses: According to an internal TSA investigation, known as the "Boston Report," from early 2008 to late 2009, BDOs engaged in widespread racial profiling at the Newark Liberty International Airport. Specifically, BDOs would single out Mexican and Dominican passengers as a way to drive-up immigration referrals. BDOs would then falsify behavioral reports to justify their scrutiny. BDOs engaged in such practices were nicknamed "Mexican hunters" by colleagues.
  • Screeners Lack Training on Civil Rights (I): In August 2009, college student Nick George was interrogated, handcuffed and detained for nearly five hours at the Philadelphia International Airport because TSOs had discovered a set of English-Arabic flashcards on his person. The TSA's treatment of Mr. George was a violation of his First and Fourth Amendment rights to free speech and protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
  • Screeners Lack Training on Civil Rights (II): In January 2009, TSA officials and JetBlue Airways paid $240,000 to Raed Jarrad to settle charges that they had discriminated against him because of his ethnicity and wearing a T-shirt with Arabic writing. In order to board the plane, the TSA forced Mr. Jarrad to cover up his T-shirt with another T-shirt and made him ride in the back of the plane. Such actions were a clear violation of Mr. Jarrad's right to free speech and expression and DOJ's 2003 guideline on racial profiling.
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